Welcome to My Family’s Nightmare
Our story begins shortly after my mother had a near fatal stroke in November of 2005. Miraculously she did survive the stroke, went through a rehabilitation program, and returned home where she resided with my daughter and her great-grandson.
My mother now required medications which cost $875 per month and were not covered by any insurance. The financial situation in the household was precarious prior to the stroke due to a situation in the household that put a drain on the family resources, and now with the added medical expenses the financial situation was critical to say the least. They were now a few months away from foreclosure and there was no way of playing catch-up with the bills. Something needed to be done immediately before the house was in fact foreclosed and they all ended up on the street. This was indeed a family in crisis which should have benefited from the myriad of social services programs and “experts” available to help them get through this critical time and especially to keep the family intact. Unfortunately for us, this time of dire need was turned into a malicious criminal prosecution against my daughter and the kidnapping of my mother by the guardianship program.
The investigation done by the Sheriff’s Department was based solely on allegations made by the agents of Lutheran Services with no input whatsoever from the “alleged victim,” family, and friends who were trying to make contact with the soon to be “guardians” to resolve the situation. The detective assigned to the case decided that there was no need to further investigate the situation. (link to probable cause notes) To this day I am mystified by the fact that the detective never spoke with my mother regarding what was going on or make any attempt to verify the allegations or check for himself the condition of my mother. Or perhaps he didn’t bother because the agents of Lutheran Services told him my mother was declared incompetent (by whom and by what standards) and did not have the ability to communicate like her case worker told me. Or perhaps they told him my mother and daughter said I was dead like they told the last ombudsman. What other lies did the agents of Lutheran Services tell this detective to dissuade him from investigating further? Did they tell him that it would be too much for my mother to be questioned? Is it not too much for her to lose her family, freedom, and assets and be confined to an institution where she does not want to be and never needed to be and has been consistently been held incommunicado by her captors and treated as a case number for billing purposes? What else did Ann Ridings and Attorney Erica Dine have to say to this detective that made him decide no further investigation was necessary? At first he did not want to pursue any charges (see p. 44 thru end of Guardianship transcript). What they failed to tell the court is that they intervened to stop the sale of the house and offered my daughter $15,000 to “walk away” which she refused.
The catch “22” is that Lutheran Services has obtained Plenary Guardianship and can act on their whim deciding which rights my mother may or may not use and no protective agency will intervene to put a stop to these continued violations of the law nor will they speak with my mother regarding this unwarranted treatment.
Going back a bit, right after my mother returned home from rehab and upon the suggestion of a home health care worker who was aware of the financial situation they were in my daughter informed me that my mother could be placed in a nursing home on a “temporary emergency” basis to ensure she received the medications she needed while my daughter readied their house for sale and searched for a new residence so they would be able to move on with their lives. This temporary placement seemed to be the most logical choice at the time and time was quickly running out. This is where the nightmare begins and continues to this day.
My daughter and grandson took my mother to the suggested nursing home on January 13, 2006. She presented the paper work needed for intake (social security benefits, pension, etc) and told the intake worker the financial situation and the reason why a temporary emergency stay was necessary. My mother was admitted to Kensington Manor.
Soon after she was admitted to the facility there was a clash between a social worker (Denise Konstenius) and my daughter. This conflict began when my daughter went to the facility to have my mother sign off on the papers to put the house on the market. Both names were on the mortgage; my daughter was named beneficiary in my mother’s will and had Power of Attorney since it was my mother’s wishes to have my daughter and grandson as her care-takers. This all seemed reasonable as our family has always taken care of each other especially in times of sickness and in their later years.
The social worker (Denise Konstenius) demanded to see the house sale papers and my daughter refused saying it was family business and not hers. A couple of days later the same social worker called my daughter who was under extreme pressure and threatened to take her Power of Attorney away which she managed to do on March 7, 2006, (insert Revocation of Power of Attorney) but without the knowledge or concurrence of my mother. My daughter who was dealing with all the pressures of trying to keep the family together did over-react to the social workers threat and told the social worker off in no uncertain terms. I am in no way excusing the language she used at the social worker however that does not justify manufacturing a case of exploitation against her and taking possession of my mother’s life and assets. My mother swears to this day that she never signed any papers and anyone who knows her knows that she would never under any circumstances sign her assets or life away to strangers. If that is indeed my mother’s signature on the paper it was not done with her understanding of what the language in the paper meant. As I have stated before my mother does not understand legal terminology nor is she aware of system policies and procedures and is extremely hard of hearing.
Meanwhile I receive a call from my daughter telling me that Lutheran Service’s Guardianship program intervened to stop the sale of the house. My daughter found an attorney to take this case on a contingency basis because under Florida law she was entitled to half the money from the sale. So she filed a suit against the guardianship agency. This suit would give her enough money to pay for the required deposit and rent on a new apartment so the family could re-unite. From there things went further downhill. Without the money from the sale of the house my daughter was stuck and so was my mother.
Meanwhile and we must remember that this was all happening at the beginning of the mortgage crisis; the sale price of the house had to be lowered three times as foreclosure was rapidly nearing. Fortunately the home did sell on the day of foreclosure. After all the backed up bills were paid the money remaining from the sale of the house was now tied up in a no-interest escrow account. At the same time my daughter lost her job and her car was re-possessed. She now needed to find a place for her and her son who is bi-polar coupled with ODD, ADHD to live. The situation became even more tense for all as the drama unfolded.
My daughter now informs me that there is a hearing to take place and that Lutheran Services offered her $15,000 to “walk away.” I’m trying to understand what is going on. I assumed that this hearing was for the house sale monies tied up in the escrow account. However, it turned out to be a guardianship hearing. I, as next of kin, was never notified of this proceeding nor was my mother ever served with a notice of the proceedings about to take place as is required by law. My mind is not computing what is going on. In the hearing transcript Denise Konstenius (the social worker who initiated this fiasco) told the court that no family member came forward. How could a family member (me) come forward when I was never notified of their intentions to take guardianship? (link to guardianship transcript) How could they take guardianship of my mother when she has family and never discussed this course of action with anyone except the agents of the other agencies involved? So how can anyone come forward when no one is informed as to what the intentions of Lutheran Services are or when they refuse to return calls or respond to written communications? (insert Ann Ridings letter)
According to the legislative intent of the Guardianship laws of the State of Florida, guardianship should only be granted as the last possible avenue after all other options have been explored. (link to Legislative intent) This did not happen in my mother’s case. At no time did the agents of Lutheran Services put any effort into either contacting next of kin (me) nor did they pursue any alternatives as required by law. The focus of their efforts was to stop the sale of the house and gain financial guardianship. (see 3/23/06 Notice of Conclusion of Investigation)
And when I did call the court appointed Attorney Raymond Miller, (supposedly representing my mother) after the guardianship proceeding took place he informed me that “you have no rights, get yourself an attorney.” When I called the guardianship attorney for Lutheran Services (Neil Scott) and I brought up the issue of them not notifying next of kin he told me “we did the best we could at the time.” I would like to know what the best they did was other than manufacturing a case of exploitation against my daughter.
The last ombudsman that went to the facility to see my mother told me that both my mother and daughter said I was dead. When I questioned the ombudsman about this absurd statement she told me that my mother now enjoys a better quality of life. How would she or anyone from Lutheran Services know what quality of life my mother had? Since when have they become the family historians? To this day Ms. Ridings has only seen my mother at the guardianship hearing and the day she refused to let my mother look at her financial and medical records.
My mother was handed over to Lutheran Services Guardianship program by the court as if she was an article of trade. She had no idea what was going on as no one discussed guardianship with her. No one served her papers regarding the guardianship hearing as required by law. On paper she had an attorney but in reality she never had a conversation with said attorney before, during or after the hearing. By law she had a right to her own attorney for this hearing. However, she was never aware of her rights because no one in authority that had contact with her took the time to inform her of her rights or discuss the pending guardianship hearing. In fact, the last ombudsman also told me that it was me who was upsetting my mother by sending her copies of her rights. I was dumfounded by her statement.
My mother is a working class woman. She labored in factories since she was sixteen years old. She does not have a vocabulary that enables her to fully comprehend professional terminology. She is also extremely hard of hearing which adds to her lack of understanding of legal jargon. She was hard of hearing prior to her stroke, at the guardianship hearing and clueless as to how the system operates. She was totally unaware of what was being decided for her by complete strangers who know nothing about her personality, her thinking, or her history and the family dynamics. She was never exposed to the “system” before as her life was work, family, and church. Her exposure to “professionals” and legal procedures is very limited.
The next thing I hear is that my daughter was called down to the police station as Lutheran Services was pressing charges of exploitation charges against her. My daughter went to Kensington Manor to pick up my mother to take her to the police station to straighten out the accusations against her. She was stopped by the same social worker (Denise Konstenius) who threatened her with kidnapping charges if she took my mother off the premises. The cops arrived at the facility shortly after my daughter left the premises.
My daughter went to the police station alone. She was interrogated by a detective who at the end of the interrogation began yelling at her saying “your guilty, your guilty.” He told her to get ready because she was going to be arrested. Somehow this is also not computing in my head either. How can they charge my daughter with exploitation when no one had yet questioned my mother regarding the house refinancing or why she did the refinancings. How could this be considered an investigation when the agents of Lutheran Services and law enforcement refused to speak with the alleged “victim” (my mother) or friends and family members who could have shed light on the financial situation in the household and what led up to it?
Seven months went by before my daughter was arrested. She was arrested February 23, 2007 and held without bail for 40 days in the Sarasota jail until a bond of $80,000 was posted. It was not until my mother called her court-appointed attorney (Raymond Miller) to ask what was going on that a demonizing article appeared in the Sarasota Herald Tribune on March 2, 2007, three days after her phone call to Attorney Miller and 10 days after my daughter’s arrest. (link 3/2/07 article) I still had it in my head that everything would be all right once this case went to court. After all we do have laws and none were broken by my daughter so how can this be happening? Someone has to connect the dots. Wrong!
Right after the incident with my daughter and the social worker regarding the signing of the papers for the sale of the house my mother’s access to the phone was stopped once again. By that I mean she could neither make calls nor receive any. This was very upsetting to all of us. Why is my mother not allowed to have contact with the outside world? Who gives these people the authority to restrict family contact and keep my mother isolated from family and friends?
I did not know that denying my mother free and open communication was ILLEGAL until I went to my Congressperson’s office to see if they could help in some way. I was referred to the Long-Term Care Ombudsman’s office and filed a complaint. (link to Becky Fast ltr) After a visit by the first ombudsman the phone restrictions were lifted. The ombudsman also gave me a direct number to her room which was never given to my mother or anyone else. This number was disconnected in May 2008, after my mother called her case worker to ask her for a ride to court which is also supposed to be her right as the “victim” to attend all proceedings. Since May of 2008 my mother can only dial out. No messages can be left for her at the desk and they will not patch calls through to her room nor will they allow any visits. They claim that her health is the reason for this. One only has to sit down and speak with my mother and see her to know she is in good shape for a 90 year old woman. Her health is being compromised because she is frustrated by her internment and by the fact that no one in authority will let her tell her side of the story. This nightmare is something she wakes up and goes to bed with every night as does the rest of the family.
According to Florida statutes my mother has the right to freely communicate with those of her choice. (link rights of incapacitated, resident rights, and guardianship laws) What is their justification for treating my mother in this manner? How could they stop her from communicating with relatives and friends or telling her side of the story? The drama becomes more bizarre as time passes.
During this time I was also calling and filing numerous complaints with the Florida Department of Children & Families and the Long Term Care Ombudsman program. (link to Elder Affairs Ombudsman docs). I also started calling attorneys. There are 30 guardianship attorneys in Sarasota alone…at least 15 of the number I called had a conflict of interest which means that they represent for Lutheran Services. I also called around the state and it was the same, either conflict of interest or fees that were way out of my reach. I was astounded at the fees to file for reversal of guardianship. The fee is $1,500 – $3,000 to file a petition for reversal and $5,000 – $10,000 to go to court. There was no guarantee that hiring an attorney would guarantee a positive outcome for my mother. The cost is prohibitive for me because I live on a fixed income. My mother’s “guardians” have control of her life and her monies. The last ombudsman to see my mother stated to me that I was the one upsetting my mother by sending her copies of the Florida statutes in regard to her rights.
My mother’s case worker Sheila Gauday informed me that three mental-health professionals declared my mother incompetent. My mother and I would like to know who these three mental health professionals are and how they came to this conclusion. My mother only had one two and a half hour test shortly after the stroke. There were never any other tests performed. Third parties who have visited my mother before May 2008 can testify to the fact that she is not incompetent, does not have dementia as she is quite aware of her situation.
The social worker claims that she had many conversations with my mother. My mother denies having any conversations with her in regard to living in an assisted-living facility. My mother started talking to this social worker when she hadn’t heard from my daughter for over a week and was upset because she did not know if something had happened to my daughter or grandson. My daughter’s phone was cut off at that time. Phone records will prove this. My mother also did not know that no calls were being allowed her at that time. Two family friends were also trying to get through to my mother and were denied calls to her.
I called Legal Aid, (there was a conflict of interest with them also) the American Bar Association and every other lead that was given me. I wrote to the Governor, the Attorney General, and the State’s Attorney. I did get a response from the governor’s office. (Frankie Leland email) However, I ended up back on the merry-go-round and again called and wrote the Long-Term Care Ombudsman Program and the Department of Children and Families. (link to Cox ltrs & Lois Natrillo ltrs) The bottom line here is that it is no one’s department even though my mother’s rights to communicate freely are still being denied her. I was referred to the courts. I wrote the judge handling the case and the Chief Judge. The presiding judge never responded but the Chief Judge did (link to Judge Haworth ltrs) and he ended up presiding over my daughter’s trial if that’s what you call a trial when she was not allowed to present any exculpatory evidence because of a Motion in Limine (link to prosecutors Motion in Limine) filed by the prosecutor which prevented any evidence that would make the jury sympathetic to my daughter or treat this case as a family matter which it is. (link to definition of Motion in Limine)
My daughter was convicted on all charges on June 13, 2008. I have not yet obtained the transcript for my daughter’s trial. Her attorney told me it would be in the neighborhood of $1,400 to obtain a hard copy of the transcript.
According to the notes produced by the detective made by the investigating detective Ann Ridings reported to him that “Ms. Woichowski’s financial assets, to include savings accounts, checking accounts, certificate of deposits, and a residence at 4164 Palau Dr. and that these had been “seized and squandered” by Ms.Woichowski’s granddaughter Dana Guarascio.” ( link to notes for probable cause) This is one of the blatant lies manufactured to demonize my daughter. He further states that Ridings told him Dana effectively ruined Ms. Woichowski financially.” Also that “Ms. Woichowski was in no “physical danger” as she was currently residing in a nursing home…Dana no longer had Power of Attorney…or any “control” over Ms. Woichowski.” Where is the proof of these claims? The question that stays with me is not the Rule of Law supposed to apply to both parties in cases such as this?
Ms Ridings along with Eric Dine “provided (the detective) with time lines regarding Dana’s entry into Ms. Woichowski’s life.” This is but another erroneous statement among the many made by the agents of Lutheran Services to further manufacture their case against my daughter. Dana and her son were living with my mother in Connecticut for nine months prior to the move to Florida. It was my mother’s decision to relocate to Florida thinking that life would be easier since there are no heating bills to pay and that the move would benefit my grandson by being further away from the influences of his father. The neighbors even threw a going away party for my mother and daughter before they left. The detective’s notes also say that “Dana, her husband and son moved into the residence in early 2000.” This is another cock-and-bull story of the many that were provided to law enforcement and the courts. Dana’s was not married at the time the house was purchased and her yet to be husband did not move into the house until early 2001. This is the evidence that the agents of Lutheran Services has suppressed to this day. The whole purpose in of these lies was to demonize my daughter ensuring that she would be viewed as a monster that zeroed in on grandma and took her money. This malicious and vindictive prosecution was instigated by the social worker and carried out by the agents of Lutheran Services by using their abundant resources to manufacture a case without ever having to produce any hard evidence to support their claims. So much for the family values they profess.
Another thing the detective states is that the “residence is foreclosed on 2/28/06.” The house was sold on the day of foreclosure 5/13/06, so in fact it was not foreclosed for if it were then there would be not have been money placed in the escrow account . He further states that “the residence is abandoned and all contents are unaccounted for.” Well duh…my daughter and grandson had to leave the residence because it was no longer theirs and what they could not take to the room they rented was sold at a yard sale and the leftovers went to the trash. If the detective had done an investigation he would know that my mother’s clothes and other personal belongings are stored at friend’s house. He also states that “Ms. Woichowski’s sole possessions included four (4) outfits, 1 pair of slippers, and 1 pair of underwear.” Again how would anyone know this when there was no inventory taken and my mother is still in possession of the two suitcases she took with her. I’m sure two suitcases were not necessary to transport 4 outfits and slippers along with one pair of underwear. This is merely more of the demonization of my daughter for the sole purpose of making it look like a case of abandonment but in reality it was nothing more than retaliation against my daughter for losing her temper when the social worker called her at home threatening to revoke her power of attorney.
Meanwhile, my mother languishes in an assisted-living facility where she doesn’t want to be. She tried talking to the guardianship attorney Neil Scott to ask for her records which is her right according to the Florida statutes. He never showed up with the records however, two days later after he left her waiting all day the Ms. Ridings showed up with a folder and read some information to my mother. My mother asked if she could just read the records because the director was talking too fast and she didn’t understand all that she was saying. This request was denied her. The director then told her “what kind of a family do you have that you paid for your granddaughters wedding?” This statement really upset my mother. First of all who are these people that they can make comments like that? My mother’s response was “what the hell do you care what I do with my money? I worked for it not you.” My mother has also had to endure derogatory comments about her family from other administrators. Is this treating her with dignity as the law requires? Her medical care has been neglectful. She asked about her eye drops three times in January and no one followed up on her request. She didn’t receive the eye drops until July when she went to have her eyes checked. She is on 4 different anti-anxiety medications and 6 heart medications, an aspirin, and a vitamin pill. The anti-anxiety meds cause her to sleep a lot which also upsets her.
January 13, 2006…Helen Woichowski taken to Kensington Manor
February, 2006… Lutheran Services stops sale of house
March 2, 2006…Guardianship Intake and Referral Form ********where is the original intake form dated January 13 ?
March 7, 2006…Notice of Revocation of Durable Power of Attorney
March 13, 2006…Application for Determination of Civil Indigent Status ********
March 15, 2006…Letters of Plenary Guardianship of the Property
March 15, 2006…Order Appointing Guardian Upon Petition For Voluntary Guardianship
March 16, 2006…Letters of Plenary Guardianship of the Property
March 23, 2006…Notice of Conclusion of Investigation
******This Guardianship Intake and Referral Form was prepared by Denise Konstenius the social worker who had the verbal altercation with my daughter. There are many fabrications in this form which need to be addressed. (link to intake form)
1. Twice on the front page Ms. Konstenius states that my daughter is estranged from her grandmother. Well grandma is in the nursing home and granddaughter is trying to ready and sell the house and trying to support herself and her son. It was not my daughter’s fault that the house didn’t sell immediately and with the interference of Lutheran Services to stop the sale it was impossible for them to get grandma out.
2. You may also note that someone made a note saying not to call my mother’s attorney to represent Helen.
3. On the second page where it states Family Significant Others Continued…there is a side note stating “has not done so yet.”…they never followed up on that one!
4. “Although forgetful, makes sense in her discussions”… “understands implications of involuntary guardianship per MD Dr. Gabriel”. Did it dawn on these people that they should have asked my mother if she understood what involuntary guardianship meant? When I asked her about guardianship she told me that she thought guardianship was for kids. So I strongly doubt that guardianship whether voluntary or involuntary was ever discussed with her. She would never sign herself away to strangers.
5. Twice in the intake form Ms. Konstenius states granddaughter and great-grandson only family. Since they had a copy of her will I would assume that someone would have seen my name and asked either my mother or daughter for my contact information. I was in contact with my daughter from the time of the stroke.
6. Ms. Konstenius also lies by saying that granddaughter only visited once to tell grandmother house was in foreclosure. This is another lie as my mother was quite aware of the financial condition in the household prior to the stroke and my daughter did visit my mother a number of times before they determined that my mother could only have supervised visits.
7. Ms. Konstenius also states that my mother called the bank to find out account was overdrawn. My mother never called the bank. She was not allowed to make or receive phone calls.
8. Again Ms. Konstenius states no other friends or family. Friends and family were trying to contact my mother at Kensington Manor and could not get through.
9. Ms. Konstenius makes a determination that Mrs. W. is a good ALF candidate. What gives this woman the authority to determine that my mother is a good candidate for an assisted-living facility? This determination was made after the verbal altercation with my daughter and is nothing more than a vengeful
The paternalistic mentality is not reason enough to declare a person legally incapacitated.
Second DCA then goes on to point out that under Florida’s current Guardianship Law (Chapter 744 ), before a person’s rights are taken away, the individual must be incapable of exercising those rights at all, “whether wisely or otherwise.” Well intentioned paternalism is not reason enough to declare a person legally incapacitated.
[I]n our present day paternalistic society we must take care that in our zeal for protecting those who cannot protect themselves we do not unnecessarily deprive them of some rather precious individual rights. . . . [A]bsent some paternalistic notion that [the ward] might make some decisions that could harm him, the doctors that examined him found that he should be restored to full capacity. Accordingly, it was error for the trial court to do otherwise.
apparent lack of due process protections afforded to the ward the first time around in 2001:
[W]e are troubled by the apparent lack of due process that was afforded to [the ward] in [the 2001] proceeding, including the failure of the trial court to advise him of the right to choose his own attorney and the apparent failure of his attorney ad litem to act as an advocate for him in those proceedings or during the guardianship.
Vicious injustice continues to dominate every branch of this government and society, the courts being a prime example.—————————below are just notes…
At the present time she is not allowed any incoming calls or visitors, not even from clergy which clearly violates all her rights according to Florida statutes regarding rights of incapacitated persons, guardianship rights, and resident rights. (link to rights)
And to make matters worse my daughter was sentenced to 3 12 years in prison with 10 years probation and restitution of $35,000 to be paid within the first 5 years for charges that were totally manufactured by the named agents of Lutheran Services Guardianship Program.
On September 6, 2008, the pre-sentence investigator went to the facility where my mother is interned to give her some family photos and was stopped from going to her room and told that everything for Helen has to go through Lutheran Services and would not allow her to go to my mother’s room. My mother received the photos four days later. So much for the right to communicate freely.